Introduction by Croakey: While questions are being raised about the validity of recent research sounding the alarm about the use of hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19, there are also other important questions to consider about the merits of public and private sector investment in an unproven treatment.
In the article below, public health physician Dr Elizabeth Haworth suggests that if Clive Palmer had really wanted to make a useful contribution to the community’s health, there were many better ways of spending his money than in buying 33 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, or spending vast sums on newspaper advertising promoting his largesse.
Elizabeth Haworth writes:
The health and well-being sector is grateful for philanthropic donations to service and research around the world. In Australia 33 of the 50 biggest philanthropic donations are for health and well-being, entirely or in part.
However, concerns have been raised that philanthropic donations are not necessarily directed at health priorities, can lack transparency and coordination, and usually neglect the root causes of poor health and the role of the environment.
We can only surmise how much money Clive Palmer has spent on his purchase of 33 million doses of hydroxychloroquine for the National Medical Stockpile, and his subsequent blanket media advertising campaign.
Hydroxychloroquine is a relatively expensive drug and necessary for the treatment of some suffering from malaria, systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis and such a large stockpile might threaten the availability of this treatment for patients where its use is indicated.
One thing is clear though; there are many better ways that these funds could have been spent for the benefit of the community’s health, as suggested below.
- A coordinating body for the allocation of philanthropic funds to meet agreed priorities and work to evidence. No philanthropists seem to accept this but the Gates Foundation has or will set up its own prioritising mechanism.
- Prioritisation of COVID-19 research, to focus on critical questions and avoid ‘me too’ or resource wasteful projects. The World Health Organization has appealed for crowd funding of the WHO Foundation to lead and coordinate COVID-19 research.
- Humanitarian support for Australians most vulnerable to the aftermath of COVID-19 such as helping to ensure that the unemployed without government funding have adequate food, safe water and shelter. Calls continue for such support, especially for the long-termed disadvantaged and those not eligible for government support.
- Setting up an Australian Centre for Disease Control to ensure Australian preparedness and coordination of future pandemics and human health crises, including climate change impacts. The Federal Government has not supported previous calls for a national centre for communicable disease control but the need for a broader based national centre will be reviewed in the aftermath of COVID-19.
- Targeting the development of new antimicrobial agents and the reduction of antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance, and especially multi-drug resistance is increasing world-wide, exacerbated by a reduction in relevant research and the development of new antimicrobial agents, because of their high cost.
Readers may have other ideas or, more importantly, a way to influence Clive Palmer – who is now planning a law suit against the Queensland and Western Australian Governments over their border closures – in using his significant wealth more effectively to improve the public health.
Would it help if he was offered naming rights? The Palmer Centre for Disease Control, or the Palmer Plan to Keep Antibiotics Useful, for example.
Dr Elizabeth Haworth is Adjunct Senior Research Fellow from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania.
Update: Responding to the comment below, the author advises: “hydroxychloroquine is safer and less expensive than chloroquine,which is not available in Australia”.